Jan 28, 2012
McDonalds giving away books with Happy Meals; Is it OK to make fun of tragedy? And we can't wait for you to read Quiet by Susan Cain and The Ice Balloon by Alex Wilkinson.
McDonalds recently announced that it would be including books with children's Happy Meals in the United Kingdom. This has generated quite a bit of controversy. Michael and I examine our feelings about it which, frankly, are conflicted. The fact that 1 in 3 children in the UK does not own a book is a staggering reality that makes me believe that this program may be OK. Still, I wrestle with the idea of connecting books and junk food.
A recent New York Times Book Review by Christopher R. Beha about Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son [WARNING: major spoilers included in Beha's review] has raised the question: is it ever OK to deal with tragic events through the use of humor? The novel, set in North Korea with Kim Jong-Il as a character, does have some humorous elements within, but overall it is not a comic novel. As I was thinking about the review and Beha's viewpoint, I happened upon a blog post on The Book Smugglers that questions a young adult book that contains a Nazi joke. Shalom Auslander's new novel, Hope: A Tragedy, centers on a farmhouse where Anne Frank lives in the attic as a squatter. My friend Kalen begins her Goodreads review in this way: "I don't even know where to start reviewing this book. It is so very, very wrong and hysterically funny." What do you think? Is there a certain period of time that should pass before tragedy is written about in a way that veers from the serious? Are some subjects untouchable?
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain is a work of nonfiction that we think will appeal to many of our Books on the Nightstand listeners. The book looks at how extroversion as "the norm" is a fairly recent phenomenon, and how introverts are often "forced" to work with others and in ways that are do not always play to the strengths of the introvert. The book looks at the brain science behind each personality trait, and examines the societal expectations and valuation of introverts and extroverts. Even though many of us share traits of both extroverts and introverts, it's a fascinating book that has made Michael look at the world a little differently. (Susan blogged about last year's Books on the Nightstand retreat, even before we knew that her book would be published by Crown, one of the Random House imprints. We're thrilled that Susan will be joining us at Booktopia:Manchester).
Full confessions: I have not yet read The Ice Balloon by Alex Wilkinson, but many, many of my colleagues have and it's killing me that I haven't gotten to it yet. But based on other books that our Books on the Nightstand listeners have read and loved, I didn't want to wait to tell you about this book. It's the story of Swedish explorer S.A. Andreé, who in 1897 tried to discover the North Pole by flying over it in a hydrogen balloon. Andreé and his fellow aeronauts were not successful, and they seemingly disappeared into thin air. Wilkinson tells the story of what happened, based on diaries and unexposed films that were found 33 years after the fatal voyage, when their bodies were finally discovered.